World’s Tiniest Fly Discovered

  • July 9, 2012

World’s Tiniest Fly Discovered. Fly Decapitates Ants then Lives in Their Heads.

The world’s smallest fly has been discovered in Thailand. It is smaller than a grain of salt and five times smaller than a fruit fly. The discoverers named the fly Euryplatea nanaknihali. It belongs to a group of 4,000 hump-backed flies known as phorid flies. Its anatomy and relatives suggest that this fly decapitates ants and develops inside the ant’s head.

The new fly has gray wings and exhibits parasitic characteristics. It has an egg depositor that is built to penetrate the abdomen of other insects. Using this depositor, the fly injects eggs into the body of a small ant. The eggs hatch and the baby flies migrate towards the head of the ant.

Upon reaching the head, the flies first eat the mandible muscles of the ant, then the brain, and finally the membrane that connects the ant head to the rest of the body. After the head falls off, the flies continue to inhabit it for two weeks. They then hatch out of the head as full-grown adults.

This fly is not the smallest insect in the world, as this record belongs to a species of fairy wasp. However, the Euryplatea nanaknihali fly is the smallest species of fly ever recorded. It is about the size of a human egg cell, and can barely be seen with the naked eye. Brian Brown, of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, discovered it as a new species.

The newly discovered fly’s closest relative is from Equatorial Guinea, and is also known for decapitating ants.

The notion of a tiny parasitic fly can cause concern among human populations. The newly discovered fly is not known to harm or use humans as its host. Most fly pest problems include flies spoiling food and transmitting bacteria and other diseases by frequenting unsanitary locations. Flies also transmit diseases through biting. Gnat bites, larger flies and mosquitoes can all vector diseases, including malaria and West Nile Virus.


Illustration by Inna-Marie Strazhnik

Reference: Brown. 2012. Small Size No Protection for Acrobat Ants: World’s Smallest Fly Is a Parasitic Phorid (Diptera: Phoridae) Annals of the Entomological Society of America.


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